Arkansas Democrats decide today whether U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln will stand for re-election or become the year’s fifth congressional incumbent denied re-nomination in a sign of voter discontent.
In other high-profile races, former Hewlett-Packard Co. Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina and former EBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman are seeking Republican nominations in California after trading their business careers for politics. In Nevada, Republicans pick a candidate to run against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Eleven states hold primaries or run-offs today to choose candidates for November’s midterm elections. A U.S. House seat also will be filled by one of two Republicans in a special election in Georgia. Some of the results will offer clues about the perils of incumbency, the clout of the Tea Party and the prospects for wealthy, self-funded Republicans.
In South Carolina, a primary today has taken on the same sideshow quality that followed revelations last year of an extramarital affair by Republican Governor Mark Sanford. Two state political operatives have said they had affairs with Nikki Haley, a married state representative who remains ahead in the polls for the Republican nomination to replace Sanford.
In Arkansas, Lincoln is facing Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter in a Democratic runoff after neither received more than 50 percent of the vote in a May 18 primary.
If she loses, Lincoln would join Utah Republican Bob Bennett and Pennsylvania Democrat Arlen Specter as the third senator denied re-nomination this year. It’s been 30 years since more than two senators were similarly derailed, according to the Senate Historian’s office; in 1980 four incumbents lost in primaries. Two U.S. House members, Democrat Alan Mollohan of West Virginia and Republican Parker Griffith of Alabama, also have lost primary races this year.
“There is no way Lincoln’s defeat can be seen as anything but people being upset with incumbents,” said Julian Zelizer, a history and public policy professor at Princeton University in New Jersey.
Halter, 49, has blasted Lincoln, also 49, for voting against the final version of President Barack Obama’s health-care bill. Halter’s allies in organized labor have attacked Lincoln for opposing a measure to ease union-organizing requirements and for voting against union lawyer Craig Becker nomination to the National Labor Relations Board.
During a June 6 appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Lincoln said Washington-based unions have spent about $10 million in the last three months trying to unseat her.
Lincoln has highlighted her power as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and touted a provision she added to pending financial-industry overhaul legislation to force commercial banks to wall off their swaps-trading desks. She also had former President Bill Clinton, who served 12 years as Arkansas’s governor, campaign for her.
“You see the center-left tension” within the Democratic Party playing out in the Lincoln-Halter race, Zelizer said.
The winner will face Republican Representative John Boozman in November.
In California, polls show Fiorina leading for the state’s Republican Senate nomination and Whitman ahead for the party’s gubernatorial nod. Fiorina, 55, would take on Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, 69; Whitman, 53, would face former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, 72, who is currently the state’s attorney general.
Whitman has funded her campaign with $71 million of her own money, state records show. She’s spent part of her campaign treasury rebutting attacks by opponent Steve Poizner, the state’s insurance commissioner, who ran ads that featured circling vultures to criticize Whitman’s ties to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Whitman has outspent Poizner, 53, by more than three-to-one, state records show.
Fiorina has enjoyed a cash advantage over her main primary opponent, former U.S. Representative Tom Campbell, 57.
As of mid-May, Fiorina had raised more than $7.5 million and spent more than $6.7 million; Campbell had raised $2.6 million and spent $1.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
California’s unemployment rate reached 12.6 percent in April, the nation’s third-highest. Economic unease among voters and concern about expanding government put Boxer, a three-term incumbent, at risk of losing in November, said Jennifer Duffy of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
“Voters seem to be in the mood for some change right now, even in a state as Democratic as California,” Duffy said.
In Nevada, recent polls show Sharron Angle, a former state legislator who went to court in 2003 to block a proposed tax increase, leading a 12-candidate Republican field for the right to challenge Reid.
Angle, 60, has been helped by backing from Tea Party adherents and the anti-tax Club for Growth in pulling ahead of former state party chairwoman Sue Lowden, 58, and Las Vegas businessman Danny Tarkanian, 48.
“Nevada is ground zero for the tremendous amount of voter discontent,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, citing the state’s highest-in-the-nation foreclosure rate and second-highest unemployment rate behind Michigan. “Sharron Angle has tapped into that anger.”
An Angle win might fuel other anti-establishment candidates, Zelizer said. “The question with the Tea Party is, is this a serious movement that can do serious things?” he said. “To the extent they’re successful, they get more people involved.”